When is an animated kids show a Hulk-sized big deal? When it continues a blockbuster Disney/Marvel movie franchise that has also become the linchpin of ABC’s fall lineup. The synergistic aspects of “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” — being previewed on boy-oriented cable network Disney XD, in advance of a series date in July — are thus more interesting than the program, a fairly unimaginative extension that picks up not long after the live-action movie ended. Featuring wall-to-wall fighting and not much plot, it’s a serviceable addition but lacks the quality Warner Bros. and DC have put into similar efforts, most notably “Justice League.”
The one-hour opener finds Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (wait, that’s the subtitle to another Disney XD show) having disbanded in the wake of the events in “The Avengers” movie, before Iron Man (voiced by Adrian Pasdar) reunites them to battle Captain America’s old foe, the Red Skull, and MODOK, a giant-headed bad guy who — reflecting the benefits of animation — would look very, very silly on a movie screen.
Hewing closely to the movie’s universe, the gang’s all here — including Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow, along with the Falcon, adding an African-American hero to the group — engaging in a kind of playful bickering that, as presented, pretty quickly begins to grow tedious.
Indeed, Hulk (Fred Tatasciore) — who is more verbal in Marvel’s animated fare than in most incarnations — spends much of his time swapping putdowns with Hawkeye (Troy Baker) and trading punches with Thor (Travis Willingham), who enjoy rough-housing the way two kids would, the only difference being the toll their encounters exact on property.
It’s all pretty standard stuff, with an abundance of action to dazzle small fry but nothing much to excite comic-book-fluent adults, who have in the past become valuable parts of the audience for programs like “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
Still, there’s no denying Disney has been particularly shrewd in mining its new treasure trove of boy-skewed assets, proving there’s more to life (and merchandising) than just princesses. In that regard, the July premiere for “Avengers Assemble” seems particularly savvy, tapping into interest in the franchise while providing a calling card for the upcoming “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD,” ABC’s first stab at adapting one of the comic-book properties since the acquisition. And access to these superheroes as well as an upcoming Star Wars series should make Disney XD a much more formidable player in the kids cable game. (Disclosure: My wife works for an unrelated unit of Disney.)
Disney, in other words, has a lot more riding on something like “Avengers Assemble” than your run-of-the-mill Sunday-morning cartoon, with a multi-tiered rollout that includes games and iTunes.
In that respect, the Avengers aren’t just over-sized heroes, brought together to save the world. They’re big business.